by Lisa Loomer
Ruby Slippers Theatre
and Studio 58
Studio 58, Langara College
100 West 49th Ave.
March 19-April 3
604-257-0366 or

Three women sit in a doctor’s waiting room reading Cosmo.

Wearing traditional Chinese garb, Forgiveness from Heaven (Donna Soares) explains with a giggle that her three-inch-long feet, bound when she was a child to make her more attractive to her polygamous husband, are rotting. One of her toes has just fallen off.

Victoria (Evangela Dueck) is a tightly corseted Victorian Englishwoman. Her physician husband (Allan Zinyk) insists she have her uterus removed to cure her “hysteria.” Whenever she says “my husband,” she gives an involuntary little hysterical kick. “Corset hurt bad, huh?” asks Forgiveness. “No,” says Victoria, “only when I breathe.”

Wanda (Beatrice Zeilinger), a busty working girl from Noo Joysey whose implants have gotten rock hard, worries that she might have breast cancer. The nurse (Nicole Gordon) reassures her: “How you gonna have cancer? You don’t have a single body part that’s real!” But when Wanda is diagnosed with an aggressive form of the disease, Lisa Loomer’s play shifts from black comedy to life-and-death drama, from purveying feminist cultural anthropology to attacking the corruption of the American medical establishment.

Turns out their doctor (Scott Bellis) is fighting cancer himself. He’s also fighting the system, represented by the sleazy head of the hospital board with interests in a pharmaceutical company (Josue Laboucane), and a slimeball working for the FDA (Nikolas Longstaff). They conspire to prevent a promising cancer cure being developed in Jamaica from getting clinically tested in the States.

Subtle this is not. But it’s entertaining, educational, and often hilarious. Playwright Loomer throws together eras, cultures, and genres with admirable recklessness, sugar-coating her didactic political messages with broad comedy. Okay, men impose their horrible values on women’s bodies, but we’re laughing too hard at the slavering sexual hypocrisy of Zinyk’s repressed Victorian husband to worry about how heavy-handed the idea may be. She argues less successfully that capitalism compromises Americans’ health, because Laboucane’s businessman is so radically obnoxious that the serious message gets buried under the satire.

The overplaying may be director Diane Brown’s fault, but it’s one of her few false steps in this terrific production that seamlessly meshes the professionals of Ruby Slippers Theatre with Langara College’s acting students. The kids all do solid work but Soares’ Forgiveness and Dueck’s Victoria are standouts. Of the three pros, funnyman Zinyk does his trademark zany, classy Bellis carries the play’s dramatic load, and Zeilinger’s blowsy Wanda is simply sensational, shifting effortlessly from ferocious comedy to the anguish of a young woman unexpectedly facing death.

David Hudgins creates fascinating video montages of old movies, ads, and anatomical illustrations on the sliding walls and curtains of Yvan Morisette’s cleverly adaptable set, which allows lightning-quick scene changes. The musical transitions are thematically impeccable, especially “She’s a Brick ... House.” So what if it objectifies women’s bodies. It’s a great tune.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Tuesday, March 22, 2005 3:28 PM
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